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The poem Animals is written by American Poet Walt Whitman in the praise of animals. He describes the characteristics of animals which attract him to them and also compel him to love them.
The poet explains how they are happy with their lives. They never complain, never do anything wrong unlike humans who are always complaining, full of desires, greed and deceitfulness.
The poem is written in a single stanza and consists of 16 lines. In order to understand the poem, I have divided the poem into three parts. We will also discuss the meanings of difficult words.
Part 1 (Lines 1-3)
The poet says that he often thinks that he can turn (go) and live with animals as they are so placid (calm and peaceful) and self-contain’d (do not care about others). He often stands and keeping looking at them for long because he is astonished by their nature.
Part 2 (Lines 4-11)
According to the poet, the animals do not sweat and whine i.e. complain about their condition. They are happy with what they are. They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins like humans. So, the poet is actually comparing animals with humans.
Humans commit sins which make them feel guilty. Hence they often weep for their sins in the night. On the other hands, animals never commit any sins, so they don’t feel guilty. Thus they sleep peacefully in the night.
The poet further says that the animals do not make him sick (bored) by discussing their duty to God. So, again the poet is criticising the nature of humans. People commit sins and at the same time talk about their duties to God i.e. they have double standards.
On the other hand, animals neither commit sins not talk about God and religion. They do not believe in this and thus live happily.
Next the poet says that no animal is dissatisfied with its life nor demented (mad) with the mania (illness) of owning things. In other words, animals are happy with what they have and they don’t have greed of worldly things like humans.
No animal kneels to another (bow before the other animals like humans) nor to his kind (e.g. those of its own breed) though they have been on the earth for thousands of years. In other words, humans bow before the powerful or rich people but animals never bow before any other animal.
No animal is respectable i.e. no animal is respected (as humans respect based on status or wealth). No animal is unhappy over the whole earth i.e. No animal is unhappy because of its status or nature or kind on the whole earth.
So, the poet is pointing towards the discrimination on the basis of caste, class, religion, colour etc. Unlike humans, animals never discriminate each other and never feel sorry for what they are.
Part 3 (Lines 12-16)
After describing how animals are better than humans, the poet says that they (animals) show their relation to him and he accepts them. In other words, poet says that his nature and thinking is very similar to that of animals and thus he proudly accepts this.
According to the poet, they bring tokens of himself. Here himself refers to humans. In other words, the animals possess qualities which were those of humans.
Animals evince (reveal) what they have in their possession i.e. their characteristics (which poet described in part 2) to us plainly i.e. in a straight way. In other words, animals show all those characteristics which humans once had i.e. honesty, innocence, classless society, Atheism etc.
The poet wonders from where they could get those token i.e. that nature of humans which existed in the past. In the final line. He thinks whether he (i.e. humans) passed that way huge times ago i.e. had those virtues long time ago but dropped them i.e. left them negligently (carelessly).
So, the whole poem is about the evolution of greed, desire, among humans. The poet is of the views that we were honest, innocent and good in the beginning of the time. However now we have lost all those virtues. On the other hand, animals seem to have retained those virtues.